- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

KIEV — Ukraine will choose a successor to President Leonid Kuchma tomorrow amid extraordinary scrutiny from the United States and Europe, with many observers already saying the governing party can win only through fraud.

First-round balloting on Oct. 31 ended in a virtual dead heat, with pro-Kuchma Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko within a half-percentage point of each other, despite widespread questions about the fairness of the campaign.

About 1,000 foreign observers will fan out across the country for the vote, sponsored by the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO), which is cooperating with Freedom House and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, arrived in Kiev yesterday to observe the election on behalf of President Bush. It is the first time a U.S. president has sent an envoy to oversee a Ukrainian election.

Mr. Lugar met with Mr. Kuchma to urge him to ensure a fair vote and convey a message from Mr. Bush that Ukraine’s relations with the United States would depend on the vote’s legitimacy.

“I will indicate personally to the leadership of this country what is at stake, to instruct their followers and those who may have some influence to take seriously the fact that the world is watching,” Agence France-Presse quoted Mr. Lugar as telling reporters.

The Washington Times reported Thursday that several allies of Mr. Yanukovych have been placed on a U.S. visa watch list under a law that permits the United States to bar foreigners suspected of corruption and undermining their country’s election processes.

People on the list include Kuchma chief of staff Viktor Medvedchuk, the president’s son-in-law and parliament member Viktor Pinchuk, General Prosecutor Gennadiy Vasyliev and Minister of Internal Affairs Mykola Bilokon.

A State Department official in Washington also said the first round of elections was not free and fair and that “we remain quite concerned that they are not going to meet that requirement” in the second round.

Mr. Kuchma, who is retiring after 10 years as president and two as prime minister, responded Thursday by accusing “some” opposition leaders of undermining democracy but said he did not think the U.S. Congress would pass sanctions against Ukrainian officials.

“Serious men sit in [the U.S.] Congress,” he said. “I am convinced that Congress won’t make any decision for a very simple reason, because … the Ukrainian people will elect a new president in keeping with our constitution and in keeping with our laws. …

“The president will become who the Ukrainian people elect,” he said. “Ukraine needs absolutely honest elections and an absolutely legitimate president like [it needs] the air.”

U.S. and European observers, however, said a dirty-tricks campaign against Mr. Yushchenko’s supporters has cast doubt on the integrity of the second round.

“The numerous irregularities identified by our mission before Oct. 31 and during the interelection period have the potential to undermine the integrity of the electoral process,” said Edil Baisalov, co-leader of ENEMO.

ENEMO co-leader Peter Novotny said the group also was concerned about “pressure on students and state workers to support the government candidate or face repercussions.”

Threats and physical assaults against election commissioners, campaign workers, election observers, students and the press have increased since the first round of the elections.

Mr. Yushchenko said yesterday that he would bring “millions” of followers into the streets to defend the constitution if the government tried to falsify tomorrow’s results.

Mr. Lugar, before leaving Washington, said “a fraudulent or illegal victory would leave Ukraine’s leadership and country crippled. … The new president would lack legitimacy with the Ukrainian people and the international community.”

The United States has provided about $13.6 million in assistance to support democratic elections in Ukraine.

The aid is part of a broader, multiyear effort to further democracy by promoting an independent press, local government reform, rule of law, civil society development, and an open and transparent political process.

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